Category Archives: Travel

As a freelance writer, I create blog content for websites.

Need a travel advice blog for your website? If so, ask me to be your freelance writer through UpWork.

My personal experience with travel includes:
  • 2 years in France at Sciences Po
  • 1 year in Spain through the US Fulbright program
  • A semester teaching English in Turkey
  • A university exchange summer program in Argentina
  • 10 months in Bolivia with Rotary International Youth Exchange
  • Additional short travels throughout Europe, Africa and South America

Some of my travel interests include language learning and culture.

4 Reasons to Travel Alone

You’ve thought about it. You have the time. You have the money. But…

Surely it would be more fun to travel with a friend, right?

It’s pretty common to think about travel as a social activity that you need to share with someone else. Often we think it will somehow be easier, more fun, or safer with a friend.

I’m writing this post to say that that’s not necessarily the case. Here are some reasons why you should travel alone– if only once in your life:

4 Reasons to Travel Alone

1. To remember just how amazing you are

Too often when you travel you will find yourself doing something amazing– seeing famous places, meeting interesting people, or taking your first ever train ride, for example.

When you do these things with another person, you don’t tend feel like “you” did them– you feel like “we” did them.

When you travel alone, though, suddenly there is nobody else to give credit to when you manage to order lunch in Spanish or find your way back to your hotel at night. You’ll have to realize just how amazing you are.

2. To learn about your faults

Just as you will give yourself credit for the good things that happen during your trip, you will also have to recognize when bad things happen.

If you lose your hotel key while traveling alone, you can’t blame your companions– it’s all on you!

Accepting responsibility for your actions and learning to see your faults helps you to grow as a person. You’ll become more aware of your own limitations, and more comfortable with yourself as a person.

3. To discover your true interests

When you’re alone, it’s all up to you. Whether or not your friend wants see the modern art museum is completely irrelevant.

Should I stay and watch the funny mimes on the street, or head to the museum before it closes?

If you want to stay, you can! If you don’t, then don’t! My favorite moments are when I find myself trying to decide what to do next.

Should I go out for a drink or should I head back to the hotel early?

Normally there are other people involved when making these decisions. Even when we’re alone at home we tend to think about getting things done in the interest of others– sleeping early to not make your boss angry by being late, going to the museum because you told a friend that you would, etc.

When you travel alone, though, you’ll be forced to form your own preferences and opinions. As a result, you’ll come to more fully discover your true interests.

4. To meet the locals

If you’re traveling with others, it’s much more difficult to speak with the locals. You might be embarrassed to try speaking a foreign language in front of your friends, or just more focused on your own conversations than with striking up a dialogue with somebody new.

You can meet the most amazing, interesting people when you travel. And when you travel alone, you’ll be much more likely to approach a new person– or have a new person approach you.

Have you traveled alone? How did it go?

[Cover Photo: Sheep and shepherd on the border between Portugal and Spain.]

Sciences Po Notes: Burka Free Meaning of Liberty


The US and France have a deep disagreement about the meaning of liberty.

I know what you’re thinking — the US and France? They’re both Western, developed countries. Don’t they kind of do everything the same?

My first trip abroad was all about seeing something different. I went to Bolivia for a year because I wanted to be shocked– I wanted to see horrendous poverty and learn about ludicrous laws and peculiar traditions. And I was right that Bolivia has far more visually noticeable differences– after all, in France people look kinda the same, dress kinda the same, eat kinda the same, and act kinda the same as people from the US. Barring an obsession with techno music and stinky cheese, culture shock here is pretty mild.

Peeling back the layers of cultural differences is a far more subtle study in France, but it nevertheless reveals some important, deep-rooted differences.

Reading for class today (see citation below) I was reminded of one great example of our differences:

French banning of the burka and hijab.

For those of you reading this asking if the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) or burka (which also covers the face) are really banned somewhere, the answer is yes! They are! Does that shock you?

Both the burka and hijab have been banned at different times in France… I won’t be going into the legal side here. Rather, I want to focus on how such a ban underlines an important difference in thinking between the United States and France that not only pervades the legal world, but also the average citizen’s individual conception of… well, life.

In the article I was reading (cited below), author Ioanna Tourkochoriti states the issue simply:
“A law, like the one adopted in France, banning the hijab for students in schools would most likely be considered unconstitutional in the United States.”

While both the US and France can agree that insisting a person remove their hijab for certain identification reasons makes sense (you know, in a very respectful way, like for the passport photo, because we need to see your face, sorry), the question of whether or not it should be allowed in schools or other public places is contentious.

In the US?
Americans have a long history of fearing their government is going to impose too much control on them. We don’t want anyone taking away our guns anymore than we want them telling us what we can wear (well, unless it’s about leggings, then maybe).

This is the concept of “negative liberty” — a phrase Tourkochoriti uses freely in her article, though I admittedly had to look it up. It’s the idea that we should be free from interference by others.
You wanna wear a burka? Go for it! I’ll wear my cross, he’ll wear a Jewish yarmulke, and we’ll all go around happily dancing at the capital because we know that our rights to freedom of religion and expression protect whatever kind of religious paraphernalia we want to wear. Period.

So what kind of unfair, liberty-hating radicals infested France?

Honestly, the first time I heard about the burka ban, I thought it was a joke– or at least a sign of the wrong French political party getting waaay too power. But here’s the rationale:

“The burka ban, like the hijab ban in public schools in France, is justified by the need to protect the girls wearing a burka from social pressure when the choice to wear it is not authentically theirs. It also aims at protecting them from themselves when wearing the burka happens to be an authentic choice of the women concerned.”

The French reason that by banning the burka you actually protect religious freedoms— you promote gender equality and, in the case of public schools, create a space for learning free of religious issues.

Both countries support separation of church and state (or laicité as the French call it). The difference is on how they go about implementing that separation: “freedom through the state in France, freedom from the state in the United States.” 

Should the state help to ensure religious freedom by insisting schools enforce separation of church and state in public places? Or should the state ensure religious freedom by simply not sticking their noses into other people’s business?

Personally, I can see the rationale for both systems, so this post isn’t intended to push any one conclusion. What is clear to me, though, is that the role of the government as seen by the French public and the US public is quite different.

A blog without comments is like a boat without water.
Help me float.


Source of Quotes and Inspiration:
Tourkochoriti, Ioanna, The Burka Ban: Divergent Approaches to Freedom of Religion in France and in the USA (March 24, 2012). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 791-852, 2012. Available at SSRN:

How do you pick your coffee shop?

cafe3Today I was walking around Cihangir, a neighborhood known for its incredible, endless selection of cozy cafés.

So the question arose: How do you pick your café? Do you go for the one with fancy lattés? Comfy couches? Fast Wi-Fi?

I chose Istanbul Momo coffee shop, because it’s pretty much a no-brainer when I see this:cafe2

In case I gave the wrong impression in this post where I talked about how Turkey has lots of cats on their streets, let it be known that they do have lots of strays, but they also love cats here. And so do I.


Reading Turkish Coffee

Want to know your future? Reading Turkish coffee can be good fun.

Turkish coffee is made with fine, powdery coffee grains that sink to the the bottom of the cup. You don’t want to drink these grains– trust me, it’s not pleasant. Rather, you want to leave the coffee sludge in the bottom of your cup, along with a bit of liquid. That way, you can use the coffee to tell your fortune. Don’t worry- reading Turkish coffee isn’t that difficult!

Turkish coffee - maija reading turkish coffeeHow do you do it?

After drinking your coffee, turn your cup upside down on its plate. Again, it’s quite important to leave all the coffee grains and a bit of liquid coffee (but not too much) in your cup so that the sludge will slide down making shapes and patterns.

Next, you have to wait until the cup is completely cold. This allows time for the sludge to drip and take shape.

At this point you can put a metal possession on the back of the cup to help it cool down faster. Or not.

reading turkish coffee coolingOnce it’s cool, you can read your fortune.

This week a Turkish friend of mine who used to read fal explained to me some of the basics.

While looking at the rim of the cup, hold the cup with the handle facing down.

reading turkish coffee directions

  1. Patterns and shapes you see in the coffee on this side refer to the future
  2. On this side they refer to the past

After reading the cup, move on to the plate. Pour any liquid on the plate back into the cup and then read it.reading turkish coffee plate

  1. The small circle on the plate (the size of the coffee cup) shows information about your family and very close friends
  2. Anything beyond that circle refers to other acquaintances, friends and greater society

While you can feel free to make up fortunes based on what you see in the coffee grains and what you think they may represent (ex. a bird in the future could mean that a person will travel soon), there are also standardized interpretations that you can memorize.

Read more posts about Turkey

My first experience with kahve falı (coffee fortune telling) was during my first visit to Turkey. Armed with a bilingual Turkish-English friend of a friend, I listened intently as an old man turned my cup around and spoke for nearly an hour about my future and the friend translated. According to him, I should be going to Egypt someday.

I still haven’t been, but I think it’s a great fortune!

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015#BloggingAbroad

6 Normal Things From Life Abroad

When you move to a different country you become immune to many “normal things” that at first you thought were weird. Here are some *prizes* for my favorite normal things from life abroad:

1. Dirty streets, dirty feet [Bolivia]
Yes, you can get used to your feet being constantly caked in dust. In fact, in some places you really don’t have a choice.
In Senegal my host mother always insisted I wash my feet to avoid microbes “getting me,” but after spending 8 hours a day like this, I bet the microbes still “got me.” Bolivia wins the prize on this though, because nobody there ever suggested I wash my feet.

2. Street animals [Turkey]
Saint LouisChat de GoréeIMG_4794In some places it’s goats and sheep, in others its dogs.
Some have homes, others are wild.

At first you take pictures and ask what’s being done for them, but eventually you get used to their presence.

Turkey takes the prize because of its cats… they are literally everywhere.


3. One potato. Two carrots. [Spain]

I remember being very taken aback the first time I realized that I could buy only the singular fruits and veggies that I needed.


When I lived in Spain I had a fruit store on the corner, a bakery down the street and a small grocery store that saved all the weird-shaped tomatoes, like this one, just for me.

4. No silverware. Just your hand. [Senegal]

Eating with the hand


I cannot stress how much I LOVE eating with my hand.

It gives you intimacy and connection with your food.

Senegal wins the prize for teaching me to do it right. Even though I only lived in Senegal for 5 months, I still use my hand for rice dishes when I’m home alone.

5. Poor translations. [Czech Republic]

Brno - Mendel MuseumIMG_6217

Every non-English speaking country gets credit for this one, but the Czech Republic wins this prize.  I’ve seen many botched restaurant menus, but the Czech apparently dared to translate poetry at Gregor Mendel’s garden in Brno.

That said, the “30 Second Dispel Horniness” L’Oréal cream is my all-time favorite find. I found it in Turkey but since there was no Turkish on the packaging, it can’t qualify the country for a win.

6. Explaining Arkansas. [Wikipedia]

No matter where I go I always have to explain something about my state. That’s especially true when I gawk at funny-shaped tomatoes or my roommate comes home and I’m eating dinner with my hand.
What is life like in Arkansas? Thankfully, Wikipedia has always been there to help me find the words:







Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015#BloggingAbroad

Couchsurfing Sex Survey

I wrote this post about couchfucking (couchsurfing sex) a while back and posted a survey for people to fill out about their experiences.

If you haven’t filled out my survey yet, go there and do it!

Results will be posted on this page, below.

So far (as of January 9th, 2017) I have received: 9 responses.

That’s not enough to draw any serious trends or conclusions about anything. But there is one question where a single answer is definitely dominating so far:

Would you ever consider sex with a couchsurfer or host?
“Sure, why not? It’s just sex.” – 87.50%
“Only if we had a real connection.” – 12.50%

Want to see more results? Then take the survey! If I get past 50 responses then I’ll start posting graphs 😉

[Cover photo for this article is a stock image from Pixabay. But can we all just agree that the subject is definitely couchmasturbating? Couchsurfing and masturbation. That’s going to be my new hit blog….]

Scenes from Istanbul

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015  Prompt: “A Day in Your Life”

I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to drink. But I’m 25 years old, so it only takes about 5 minutes for this German guy in the hostel to convince me otherwise. “Alright,” I say, “one drink.”

6 pints and 4 shots of jäger meister later, I take the following masterpiece of a photograph:

Wow they’re just so awesome! I have to take a photoooooo


I wake up at 8am to a screeching fire alarm. I roll over in bed, annoyed. The four other people sleeping in the room roll over too. Somebody grunts. The alarm continues.

I sigh loudly and pull myself out of bed. As I peek out the door to see what’s going on, smoke billows in.

Closing the door, I walk back to my bed and lazily pull on my shoes and coat. I’m still not awake and my body moves as though in a dream. As I turn to leave, I think to grab my phone.

Suddenly, a man with a fire extinguisher rushes into the room. He looks around wildly at its sleepy occupants.  Most people have pulled pillows over their heads to block out the noise.
Catching on to his sense of urgency, I blurt out the first thing that comes to my mind: “Qu’est-ce qui se passe?”
He cocks his head to the side. He doesn’t speak French.
“Fire?” he responds, unsure if he’s answering my question. He looks around confused and then repeats himself, this time more sure: “Fire,” he says. Then he leaves.

Escaped from the fire


I’m hungry. I tell the guys on the couch next to me that I’m gonna go get some food soon. I then spend:

15 minutes – talking about food in Istanbul
2 minutes – putting away my laptop and grabbing my coat
45 minutes – walking around the neighborhood looking for food
10 minutes – looking at different restaurant menus
20 minutes – walking back, still looking
30 seconds – deciding to walk into a shady place with no menu
2 minutes – explaining that I’m not lost and I want a sandwich
5 minutes – walking back
TOTAL: 1 hour 39 minutes 30 seconds + 1 dürüm chicken wrap


The firefighters are taking a long time. My money is in the building and I’m hungry.

I tell someone that I’m hungry and he offers me a banana. Another guy, listening in, insists that I take his apple. He tells me it’s an Istanbul apple.

I eat the banana. When the firefighters leave, I’m able to get back in my room, grab my stuff and head to a boat so I can make my way to the European side of the city and use a friend’s shower. On the boat, I order a cup of tea.

Turkish tea and an Istanbul apple


I’m walking around with this girl who went to the same university as I did, back in Texas. We have nothing to talk about.

“Let’s go to that mosque,” I tell her, pointing up ahead.

We walk up to the mosque. She puts on a hat and I put a scarf over my head. We take off our shoes and we go inside. I can’t see any women anywhere and in front of us are a bunch of men praying. We stand around awkwardly.

I see a small side door with a sign in Turkish on it. I stare at it for a minute or two, translating. It literally says:
“Women have a space that is available.”
“Come over here!” I tell the girl, “this is the women’s area.”
She comes over to me and I try to open the door, but it’s locked.

See that mosque?


I get off the boat and start walking back to my hostel. Shoe shiners are lined up beside the sea. As I look at them they call out to me “buyurun, buyurun!”
At first I ignore them, but then I look down at my dirty leather boots. I decide that I’ll stop the next time I see a guy.

Gettin’ my shoes shined

My Home in Saint Denis

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Home can take many shapes and sizes. This is my home in Saint Denis, France.

I live in…

“Ym working on myselt, or myself, by myself”
Clash of Clans, anyone?


a Muslim neighborhood advertising clothing for female independence







in an apartment shared with two game-addicted geeky boys




Stuffed tomatoes and peppers!



who love to make homemade grub



Chouchen, a form of mead made with honey





and wash it down with various French alcohols



So clean you can eat in ’em!



after a long day of taking the spotlessly clean Parisian metros


Oh la la!



only 40 minutes away from the beauty of Paris.






Just remember, Cinderella, to start heading home at midnight.*



*Or else you might miss that metro ride 😉

Traveling Alone– Not Traveling Lonely

Yesterday I arrived in Istanbul for a 3-week vacation… by myself.

View pulling away from the airport in a bus headed to town

Yikes? Nearly everyone I told assumed that I must be coming with a friend. When I said I was traveling alone, they asked if I’d be meeting up with friends.

I worked in Istanbul for 8 months, so yes, I’ll meet up with some people I know. But actually, I didn’t come here for others; I came here for me. I came here to spend some time with myself. I’ll:

  • Choose what to do by myself
  • Choose where to go by myself
  • Shop by myself
  • Get lost (and found) by myself
  • Get mad by myself
  • Feel great by myself

and it also means that I’ll:

  • Eat by myself

Eating by yourself, I’ve been told, is scary. Unless, of course, it’s fast food. But why?

Today’s lunch: Turkish mantı, like small raviolis, with dried mint and sumac

We may tell ourselves that it’s too expensive to buy a fancy meal if it’s not going to be shared. We may also think that it’s just a waste of time. But if you’ve ever actually done it then you know the real reason why most people don’t– there’s a stigma.

In fact, as a woman, if you eat dinner alone in a fancy restaurant it generally looks like you just got dumped. If not that, either you don’t have friends or you’re on a business trip and your flight got delayed. Whatever the case may be, you’re a sorry soul.

I’ll never forget the day I ate alone in Houston, TX, after a last minute visa appointment. A couple who came in before me paid for my bill on their way out. It was a beautiful, touching gesture that brightened my day, but I also had to wonder– do I look that lonely?

Tonight’s dinner: Levrek (sea bass) and Efes (Turkish beer)

So to fight off that stigma, tonight I went for a nice looking, fairly crowded fish restaurant. Because, after all, who doesn’t like fish? After explaining to the server that I was just one person and, no, no friends were coming to join me, I had an excellent meal.

After finishing, a Turkish couple next to me spied an English book on my table. I immediately heard them whispering: “Yes, it’s English. Go for it. Hello. Just hello.

They’d seen my book and they knew they could practice their English with me. I looked up, smiled and said hello first.

Where are you from? What are you doing here? How long are you staying? Why do you speak Turkish? Do you like drinking raki?

The restaurant brought us Turkish tea and and we chatted for over an hour. The boyfriend loved my choppy Turkish and I was delighted to have my first decent Turkish conversation since arriving. The one person who was not delighted, however, was the girlfriend.

Turkish women are stereotypically extremely jealous. Her one question to me was whether I had a boyfriend or not. ‘Yes,’ was not a satisfactory response. The next question was if she could see a photo of him. And then a photo of him and me together. And then: why has your hair changed? Is that really you? Are you sure you’re not lying about having a boyfriend in order to get close to mine?

My street for the next several days

To be fair, the couple explained to me that they were not together anymore and they were dining to decide if that would change. As the unofficial referee, I’d probably give it a no. Jealously, I was told, was tearing them apart.

I made them both smile and laugh and we ended the conversation by exchanging information and loose promises to meet up sometime in the days to come.

That’s the thing about traveling alone: you rarely end up alone.

Why travel?

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

Why travel?

It’s a question I’ve often been asked.

How did you get started traveling?
Why do you still travel?

For me, it boils down to this:

Film Studies and Genetics. 

Yes, seriously. I’ve never made a film before in my life or taken a course on genetics, but as a high school senior these two areas of study intrigued me. I couldn’t decide between them. The problem? They both require significant university resources for a good program, and no US school has truly excellent programs in both. 

My senior year of high school I was accepted to 11 different colleges.

But when my mother sat down with me to ask where I wanted to go, I couldn’t give her a straight answer. 

This school is supposed to be great for student life, but that school is more prestigious. And– this school is offering a great scholarship, but that school is next to the beach.” 

That’s when my mother gave me her 2 cents, as mothers do best, and suggested I forgo undergraduate school altogether until I had more thoroughly explored my passions. 

 “What? Not go to college? What do you mean?” I asked.

“Like, go abroad somewhere.”

preparing to leave
With my family, right before I left the US for the first time, 2008

Forty-eight hours later I’d called the right people, secured myself an interview and was reviewing finally drafts of a slew of essays for Rotary International’s youth exchange program. 

So, my first trip abroad was thanks to my mom, who accurately identified something important:

My indecision wasn’t a character flaw, but a sign that I needed more time. 

Time to explore my passions. Time to develop a clearer future vision. Time to think. 

My teachers at the time were horrified.

They couldn’t believe that their — shock! — straight A student might not go to college! 

My parents, though, never doubted my trajectory for a second. As ex-college professors themselves, they’d heard of students taking gap years before and they knew that a detour from the traditional path can often tremendously help, not hurt, one’s career. And they were right.

(Note: Actually, just a few years earlier my older sister had spent a successful year abroad in Thailand with Rotary. So, while my mother’s suggestion kickstarted my own travel, she was influenced by my sister’s successful year. Which in turn was influenced by a fellow church-goer’s son who had been to Russia… the line of dominos is long. When I initially called up Rotary, my district deadlines had passed, but the good impressions left behind by my sister led a few key people to help me find a nearby district with later deadlines.)

Rotary picks students based on their desire to go abroad and learn new things.

But they do not necessarily choose students based on a desire to go one specific place. When I explained that I wanted to go forth with learning Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, Rotary tried briefly to convince me out of it. After researching possibilities for learning Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malay, French, Czech, Polish, Slovak and German, though, I responded to my Rotary counsellor that:

“I still feel like my heart is set in South America.”

Colorful marketplace in Bolivia, 2008

My heart, as it were, was dreaming not only of improving my high school level 3 Spanish, but also of seeing a colorful city with PALM TREES in a country with indigenous people. Yes, I actually looked up the percentage of indigenous people in Bolivia before deciding to go there — 62%, the highest in Latin America (UNDP 2006). 

Seeing Europe was never a priority for me.

I thought life there would be too similar to life in the States.

I wanted something different, something shocking. I wanted something to make me run home full of passion saying “Yes, I have to make a film about this!” or “Yes, I have to discover genetic modifications to improve crop production for these farmers!” … or whatever it is that inspires geneticists.

Chilling with llamas in Bolivia, 2009

But in 2008, Bolivia wasn’t known for inspiring film festivals or GMO research.

Rather, the country was plagued by civil unrest in response to the questionnable actions of Evo Morales— the indigenous president who I figured would be so cool.

Many of my fellow exchange students went home early, but I developed a sense of solidarity for my host country and stayed. I was far from able to understand the complexities of the political situation at the time, but I knew that I wanted to learn more:

Shouldn’t an indigenous, populist president be a good thing? What was land reform, anyways? Why was coca so restricted? What is so wrong with nationalizing resources? 

I ended up choosing The University of Texas at Dallas because they offered me a full scholarship (through the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program), in large part because they were impressed by my decision to spend a year in Bolivia.

The Bolivians told me that I would be stupid to pass up free college (and seeing what they went through to afford lesser quality schools made me understand their reasoning). So, the only thing left was to figure out what I’d study. 

My first day on campus I asked professor Jennifer Holmes for help.

I wanted to know which program would help me find the answers to my lingering questions about Bolivia… and which program would let me travel the most. She didn’t hesitate a second:

International Political Economy.

And I’m still traveling! Chateau d’If in Southern France, 2015

And just like that, in one year, I found a university, a degree program, and a passion for travel. And now, I’m #BloggingAbroad

Why travel?

Because it can help you discover a passion and a direction in life. At least, it certainly did for me.